The Proposition, Jul. 06


The Proposition has understandably sunk at the box office andreceived little fanfare—after all, it’s an extremely violent andbleak Australian western that goes out of its way to present the late 19thcentury in its dingiest and most realistic light. This is a shame, becausethis movie, though uneven, has moments of true hallucinatory power, visuallyricism, and witty and inventive acting.

The film begins in the aftermath of “The Hopkins Outrage,” inwhich an entire family was murdered by the Burns Gang. Two of the Burnsbrothers are caught—simpleton Mickey Burns (Richard Wilson), andthe more measured Charlie Burns (Guy Pierce), while the eldest and mostbrutal brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), remains at large, living like abeast in the hills. Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), the commander of thetown of Baylon, makes Charlie a proposition: If he finds and kills hisbrother Arthur, he and Mickey will be pardoned. If not, Mickey will hangon Christmas Day.

This austere and biblical set-up is really just an avenue for the visuals,the characters, and the distinctly pretentious (and occasionally Suessian)music of Nick Cave. The Proposition’s explicit and often poetic raisond’etre is the examination of one’s environment as a truth serumfor man’s true nature. Much is made of the hellishness of the Australianoutback, reinforced by the queasy visuals—constant flies, steamingblood, and black sweat.

However, all these striking images ultimately would be nothing more thanvaguely portentous if it weren’t for the actors. The Propositionis a flawed film, mainly because of Nick Cave. His screenplay often feelsforced and clunky, and his music overpowers scenes that would otherwisebe eloquent. But the actors, specifically Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, andGuy Pierce, are remarkable. Huston, a very interesting actor, does a jaunty,bemused job with Arthur, making him both magnetic and terrifying. Winston,a great bearish actor, contains both dignity and resignation.

The Proposition is slighter than it wants to be, but it has some undeniableoomph. Because I’m a real sucker for revisionist westerns (McCabeand Mrs. Miller, Jodorowsky films etc.), The Proposition came to me likea blast of fresh, putrid gulch air amidst another summer of digital tightsand deus ex-machina laughs.